NORTH LAWNDALE — Neighborhood groups are joining forces to create an academy for science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics in North Lawndale.
The organizers behind the STEAM Partnership Academy are looking for feedback from neighbors as they plan the programs the academy will offer. Lawndale residents can give feedback through a survey.
The STEAM Partnership Academy has been in the works for years as part of the neighborhood’s Quality-Of-Life Plan launched in 2018. Residents working to improve education in Lawndale determined a STEAM school would be a major goal of the plan to meet the needs of local students.
Several schools in Lawndale have closed in recent years, including Frazier Charter School. At least five schools in the neighborhood have also been targeted by the district as “turnaround schools.”
Struggling schools have resulted in an exodus of students from the neighborhood, said Betty Allen Green, who chairs the neighborhood’s education committee, which is working on the STEAM academy. Many families now choose to send their children to schools outside of Lawndale.
“They are doing that to seek different options,” Green said. “Our intent is to see that we provide options in North Lawndale that will keep our children here.”
The STEAM Partnership Academy is envisioned as a school that will serve students from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, with state-of-the-art facilities built to complement a curriculum infused with technology and creative learning.
Based on feedback from neighborhood parents and educators, the school would be designed to support diverse learners and would have a focus on social-emotional learning as well as restorative justice practices.
The curriculum would follow an instructional framework that emphasizes understanding design processes, industrial experiences and activities, collaboration, and awareness of careers in tech.
“On a typical day you’d see students recording observations, carrying out experiments, conducting research,” said Leonard Moore of Lawndale’s Community Action Council. “It would be project-based learning.”
The curriculum is being fleshed out with input from neighborhood families, who are helping guide the school toward partnerships with groups like the Black Ensemble Theatre, Cinespace and the Shakespeare Theatre.
Parents are also working with the committee to offer ideas for the academy’s planned parent engagement center. Parents requested resources like cooking classes, financial literacy workshops, a GED program for families and a fitness center.
The school is tentatively projected to open in fall 2022, but the timeline may be delayed by the coronavirus pandemic. The coalition behind the proposal wants three current neighborhood schools to partner and merge to form the STEAM academy.
Some in the neighborhood were hesitant about merging the schools and worried the STEAM academy would pull students from other area schools that are already under-enrolled and underfunded. But the education committee held meetings with families and administrators at each school that would be affected and found them all to be supportive of the plan, Green said.
“Every group that we’ve met with has endorsed this program. Even the teachers and principals that realize that this might impact their jobs,” Green said. “But they are concerned about the education of the children, and because of that they would like to see this school come to this community.”
A recent town hall on the proposed school aimed to get the word out so all parents, students and educators in the area could guide the development of the school. In the initial phase of public engagement, the partners behind the school held dozens of meetings with local school communities to develop the proposal.
Now, the plans are being refined with input from the broader Lawndale community so the STEAM academy can respond to the specific needs of families in the area.
“The more people we get involved in this … the better it will be when we submit this idea to Chicago Public Schools,” said Ald. Michael Scott (24th).
Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.
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